Putting a Stop to Apostrophe Abuse

Given that it’s in the title of this blog, I think it’s time to address the abuse that apostrophes suffer every day. Specifically, let’s look at what drives apostrophes (not to mention editors and other grammar enthusiasts) into fits of apoplexy.

As an aside, this lady pretty much sums up how I feel when I see an apostrophe used incorrectly — especially in fancy business brochures and otherwise professional-looking materials.

First let’s talk about when you should use an apostrophe. There are three instances:

1) To replace missing letters or numerals. Most often, apostrophes are used in this manner to form contractions. Here are some examples: doesn’t (does not), gov’t (government), let’s (let us). Apostrophes can also be used to replace numerals, such as ’90s (instead of 1990s).

2) To signify the possessive case. Apostrophes are usually placed either before or after an s to indicate possession, as in the following examples: That is the zombie’s arm. It fell off at the Browns’ farm.

3) To form the plural in very rare cases. When dealing with a plural lowercase letter an apostrophe and an s are used to ease the reader’s comprehension. For example: When addressing vampires, you should always mind your p’s and q’s.

Okay, now let’s look at when you should not use an apostrophe.

To pluralize anything other than lowercase letters.

Seriously. Apostrophes should not be used to pluralize numbers, dates, capital letters or acronyms. In all of these cases an apostrophe indicates possession, not plurality. Here are some examples:

Genuine werewolf teeth from the 1700’s. Unless 1700 is the werewolf’s name and the teeth belong to him, this is wrong (and if that is the case, it’s a terrible sentence). It should read: Genuine werewolf teeth from the 1700s.

100’s of hungry vampires lay in wait. Once again, we are talking about quantity, not possession. 100s of hungry vampires would agree.

George the zombie had six BA’s but he still couldn’t recite his ABC’s. Poor George. The sentence should say: George the zombie had six BAs but he still couldn’t recite his ABCs.

The moral of the story is that if it’s plural it probably doesn’t need an apostrophe.

The last thing you need to know about apostrophes is that they should always be represented with a right single quotation mark. A straight mark or a left single quotation mark are both considered incorrect, and the latter can drive some editors into a whole other level of apoplectic fit.

Keep your grammar questions coming!

Image credit: © Chris Harvey / Photoxpress.com

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